Lydia Pinkham

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A portrait of Lydia Pinkham, signed "Yours for Health," ca. 1885. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library via Digital Commonwealth.  

"When we hear of so many school girls and girls in stores and offices who are so often unfit to perform regular duties because of some derangement peculiar to their sex, may it not be that their mothers have been careless and through neglect failed to get for these daughters the one great remedy for such troubles, Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound?"

—Lydia Pinkham Medical Company, 1920 pamphlet

Perhaps the most famous purveyor of medicines for women was Lydia Pinkham. Born Lydia Estes in Lynn, Massachusetts in 1819, she married Mr. Pinkham in 1843 and subsequently raised a family. It was not until later that she produced her famous “vegetable compound” that would change her life and elevate women’s concerns to a national level. This compound was concocted from a recipe her husband obtained as part of the payment of a debt. The concoction was marketed as a “women’s tonic” and was promoted as relief for menstrual cramps and the discomforts of menopause. Lydia Pinkham’s compound debuted in 1875 and eventually her entire family was involved in its production. Her children filled bottles and folded advertisements.

Pinkham’s business flourished long after her death in 1883. An image of her was included on the bottles and helped perpetuated her image as a hardy and resourceful New Englander who was also a woman that other women could trust. Pinkham’s image was also distributed directly to druggists in the form of advertising cards, souvenir plates, and gift items.